(Editor’s note: This is one of two related stories. See SBU trustees weighing former professor’s appeal.)
BOLIVAR – Amid expressions of doctrinal and confessional concerns about some faculty members in its Redford College of Theology and Ministry, Southwest Baptist University has commissioned an “external peer assessment committee” to foster “dialogue regarding faith and learning,” including “deeper conversations and evaluations regarding orthodoxy” within the university.
David Dockery, president of Trinity International University, will serve as chair of the committee. According to the university’s “strategic planning process,” which was instituted after Eric Turner began his presidency at SBU last fall, an external peer assessment regarding matters of faith and learning were intended to begin in the fall of 2019.
However, following the Nov. 28th termination of Clint Bass – an associate professor in SBU’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry – expressions of concern about doctrinal statements by some faculty members in the Redford College were posted online and on social media. As a result, a university spokesperson told The Pathway, SBU moved up its timeline for a peer assessment on faith and learning.
In an official letter to the US Department of Education, dated July 8, 2015, signed by former President Pat Taylor, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM2000) is attached and identified as the statement of faith for Southern Baptists and for the Missouri Baptist Convention. Further, Taylor states: “The University is controlled by the Missouri Baptist Convention which is a religious organization. . . (and) a Southern Baptist general body…” (tinyurl.com/y7lllj44).
Although SBU’s current Charter does not refer expressly to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as its statement of faith, it does pledge that it “is, and must forever remain, distinctively a Baptist institution. It must conserve, to defend, and promote the fundamentals of the Baptist Faith, and in all its teachings and policies conform to and be in harmony with the established and acknowledged principles and policies of Baptist churches affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention and with the Southern Baptist Convention” (SBU Charter, Article XVI, Section 2).
According to a written statement from SBU, the university’s amended Charter – which contains a statement of faith originally adopted in 1921 – “was most recently re-affirmed by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) in 2012.”
After Missouri Baptists approved a revision of the MBC’s governing documents in 2017, the MBC requested that SBU and other entities amend their own governing documents in several respects, such as identifying the MBC as a “corporate member” and by affirming the BFM2000. These conversations between SBU and the MBC about such amendments have been on-going for several years.
MBC Executive Director John Yeats has praised SBU’s decision to move forward with the external peer assessment on faith and learning. He also commented, “There are plenty of Missouri Baptists who want biblical integrity and Baptist confessional adherence at each of our institutions. What we want is for SBU to prosper in its mission and for the process to work, and we need to give the SBU board and its president time to address the issues.”
Expressions of Doctrinal Concern at SBU
Expressions of concern about teaching views outside the Baptist Faith and Message by some faculty members in SBU’s Redford College went public primarily via an online petition urging the university’s administration and trustees to “reinstate” Bass. The petition also calls upon SBU “to employ a third-party to investigate the theological beliefs and teaching of Redford faculty as a way to bring SBU into doctrinal alignment with the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
SBU dubbed the allegations, which Bass also brought to the administration prior to his dismissal from the university, as “unfounded” and as a mischaracterization of the Redford College’s faculty members.
Bass told The Pathway that he began to note theological issues among the Redford College’s faculty soon after he arrived at SBU, first as an adjunct in 2008 and then as a faculty member in 2009. In a Dec. 20th email exchange with Rebecca Randles, the chair of the Educational Policies and Personnel Committee for SBU’s Board of Trustees, he claimed that he has “been careful to describe the doctrinal issues in the Redford College as a lack of proper alignment with the theological stance of the Missouri Baptist Convention churches.” He said he has not applied the word “heretic” to them. Still, his opinion was that some of the views were fairly described as “irregular, deviant, aberrant or errant.” He also claimed that, when he approached SBU’s administration with his concerns, he never asked “any colleague to be fired.”
Bass said he hopes SBU’s “administration and the trustees would bring the Redford College into better doctrinal alignment with the churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
The online petition supporting Bass (found at https://www.change.org/p/a-call-for-action-we-want-bass-back) contains links to various documents intended to support allegations that faculty members in SBU’s Redford College have departed from teachings affirmed by the BFM2000, especially regarding biblical inerrancy and doctrines about the afterlife.
The question of biblical inerrancy
One document contains an email correspondence between Redford College faculty members regarding questions raised by the parent of a prospective student. In an email to Redford College Dean Rodney Reeves, the parent asks numerous questions: Do Redford College professors affirm biblical inerrancy and the “literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation of scripture”? What are their views about the six days of creation? Do they believe that Genesis is “allegorical or literal”?
Prior to responding to this parent, Reeves emailed other faculty members, asking for advice about how to answer the parent’s questions. After receiving some faculty responses, Reeves sent the parent an email and blind-copied the faculty. Bass then wrote to Reeves, “He [the father] raised a question about the specific doctrine of inerrancy. Would it be wrong to reveal to him that, while some faculty (such as myself), affirm the doctrine, other Redford faculty are uncomfortable with it?” Reeves retorted that Bass’s critique was ex post facto.
Another document provided in the online petition states that Reeves told Bass in September 2015 that “he was once interviewed for a position at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, but he was not granted the position because ‘he was not a political inerrantist.’” On another occasion in March 2017, according to the document, Reeves told Redford faculty that the doctrine of inerrancy is an issue “pushed by those ‘still caught up in that battle.’” He allegedly told faculty members that when parents and students ask whether they affirm biblical inerrancy, they should “just say yes.”
Additionally, the document claims, Reeves told Bass in October 2013, that understanding the neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth “was the pivotal moment in his theological education.”
Article I of BFM 2000 states, in part, that the Bible “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.” BFM 2000 does not contain the word “inerrancy” but uses this language to express the same principle.
In his Dec. 21st Facebook post, Reeves alleged, “Clint told many people that I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. That is a lie. I firmly believe that the Bible is the Perfect word of God (I even use non-biblical terms, like inerrancy and infallibility, to affirm the complete authority of Scripture).” Reeves later told The Pathway that he affirms biblical inerrancy, as defined by the conservative “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” and that he rejects a neo-orthodox doctrine of Scripture.
Questions regarding hell and the afterlife
Evidence provided by the online petition also includes the link to an audio recording of a public forum on hell, featuring Reeves and Redford College professor Zach Manis as speakers. The authors of the online petition allege that, during the forum, Reeves and Manis affirmed both annihilationism and inclusivism.
- According to the doctrine of annihilationism, unbelievers are not condemned to eternal punishment in hell. Instead, at some point, they simply cease to exist. In the forum on hell, Reeves said, “I believe that the wicked are annihilated, that God does not keep the fires going just to keep it burning.” He added that he wasn’t “dogmatic” about this belief, saying, “If I am to put a percent on it, I am like a fifty-five percent annihilationist.”
In an article posted on Dec. 21 on his personal blog (agenuinefaith.blogspot.com), Reeves denied that he was an annihiliationist. Reeves later told The Pathway that, while he rejects annihilationism, he finds a paradox in the New Testament, which teaches in some places that hell is eternal punishment and in others that it is destruction. He added that he’s comfortable with allowing paradoxes in Scripture to stand as they are, rather than trying to solve the puzzles created by the paradox. After all, he added, while the law of non-contradiction is a helpful tool, it is “not the final benchmark on what is true.” (According to the law of non-contradiction, two contradictory statements can’t both be true in the same sense at the same time.) Scripture is the benchmark that should guide believers as they seek truth, not human reason, Reeves said.
- According to the doctrine of inclusivism, at least some morally competent adults will be saved even without hearing the gospel or expressing a personal faith in Christ. During the forum, Reeves said, “There are some mentally competent adults who do not accept Christ who don’t necessarily go to hell,” explaining that such a view could be supported by Romans 2.
Reeves later denied that he affirms inclusivism, claiming that he was simply answering a student who asked whether any Bible passages could be used to support the belief that those who have never heard the gospel will be saved. He told The Pathway that, while he mentioned Romans 2 as such a passage, he does not actually believe that the apostle Paul supported inclusivism.
Additionally, Reeves told The Pathway that the forum on hell was not intended to “teach dogma,” but rather “to provide an environment where these kinds of questions can be explored without fear, where Christians can disagree with one another without rancor and are encouraged to read carefully the Scriptures together.”
The Pathway asked theology professors from three Southern Baptist seminaries – Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Malcolm Yarnell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Bruce Ware of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – whether annihilationism or inclusivism are consistent with the BFM2000. All three of these professors concurred that these doctrines are contrary to Scripture and are incompatible with the BFM2000.
Other theological concerns have been expressed about certain other faculty members in SBU’s Redford College, but The Pathway has not yet been able to independently verify these claims or to interview those professors.